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Reprinted from the September edition of "Accounting Today"
Ascending the Accounting Ranks
Steering your finance career onto the fast track
By Steve Brody
Executive Resource Systems
Are you growing tired of toiling in the doldrums of a mundane work life, waiting for your boss to retire before you get a chance at advancement?
Or perhaps youre drowning in a sea of cubicles, flanked by managers who have no intention of relinquishing their positions to a young upstart such as yourself? Maybe your job has you traveling constantly, while your career remains in the slow lane.
No matter what type of career wall youve encountered, below are four stepping stones to scaling that wall and reaching the greener pasture of career advancement awaiting you on the other side.
The first step toward advancement is to realize you are a brand, and the way you position yourself will determine just how high you climb up the proverbial corporate ladder. Accountants are exceptionally talented in the financial arena, but many are lacking in marketing basics. Your proficiency at effectively marketing yourself can make or break your career.
"The key arrow in your marketing quiver is your résumé," said Mike Kappel, president of Top Echelon, the nations leading network of recruiters. "A well-written résumé can achieve your first goal getting your foot in the door for an interview."
Forget what your college guidance counselor told you years ago delete the "career objective" portion from your résumé. Your objective is obvious landing a job at the firm at which you are applying. Employers and human resource directors of large firms typically spend under 10 seconds scanning each résumé, looking for reasons to disqualify candidates. Dont burn precious time and space.
Speaking of college, if you dont have a degree, by all means acquire one post-haste. Non-degreed accounting, auditing, and finance candidates face an insurmountable marketing obstacle. Advanced degrees and Certification are usually also prerequisites for advancement. Employers seek out that MBA, CPA, CIA or CISA title with a hawk-like intensity. Place this information at the top of your résumé right under your name (where your objective used to be.)
Be specific when boasting of your accomplishments. Describe impressive tangible results with statements such as, "I saved the company $300,000 by uncovering internal fraud" or "My recommendations on accounts receivable collections resulted in reducing days outstanding by 25 percent, saving the company $200,000 in lost interest income."
After your résumé is in order, its time to decide where you want to go next. The accounting profession hierarchy is marked by distinct candidate career paths. While remaining at a firm for a decade may endear you to your employer, other hiring managers could view your career as stagnant. There is a tried-and-true formula for achieving the pinnacle of corporate accounting success: Initial Big-5 or top local CPA firm training followed by a series of promotions within a Fortune 500 company. Similarly, the fast track to a public accounting Partnership is attained via a combination of continuous technical advancement, striving to demonstrate increased responsibility and leadership, and increasing your firms bottom line with targeted efforts toward practice development. If advancement opportunities are limited in your current environment, perhaps its time to seek our exceptional career opportunities elsewhere.
Beef up your bio
Mapping out a career course is the easy part. The next step is embarking on that course. Start by supplementing your BS degree with an MBA, preferably from a well-rated school.
Develop a working knowledge of state-of-the-art software applications such as SAP and Oracle. And in the spirit of expanding your skill set, work to gain an understanding of topics such as operational and computer systems auditing, and vanguard fraud management techniques.
For every course or seminar you attend, attempt to find a practical application for your new skill set at your current position. At the very least, list these educational experiences on your résumé.
Along your journey, be open to extensive travel and potential relocation. Those two factors can make you a standout in a field of complacent homebodies. Finally, volunteer for leadership assignments, and dont shrug responsibility when the balls finally tossed your way.
Okay, you know where you want to go, and you have a navigational system in place to get there. Now comes the hard part standing out in a crowded field of candidates. To pull off a coup and secure a position at a prestigious firm, you need to set yourself apart from the pack.
Landing a new position is typically done one of two ways: Self-service on the Internet or full-service with a recruiter. The Internet is filled with thousands of job-posting boards which are frequently searched by top employers. The drawback your résumé is one of millions floating out in cyberworld, making the odds of you being noticed especially by the firm of your choice infinitesimally small.
The other route is to utilize the services of a professional recruiter. Recruiters have hiring contacts at top companies, and specialize in breaking through the layers of company bureaucracy. A good recruiter will also objectively critique your resume and provide career guidance and interview suggestions, based on his specific knowledge of the hiring authoritys preferences. Hell work as your liaison with the company to represent your interests and try to negotiate the best possible package available to you. To effectively work with a recruiter, make sure he or she specializes in your particular field, and consider working with the recruiter on an exclusive basis to maximize your results.
Okay, sit back and give your current position an audit. Not satisfied? Youre now armed with the ammunition you need to make a successful career move.
Steve Brody is a Charter Member of the worlds largest recruiter network, Top Echelon. He founded Executive Resource Systems (ERS) in 1983 to provide CPA firms and major corporations with the top tier of accounting and finance professionals. Prior to starting his own search firm, Steve worked in both public and corporate accounting, in audit, tax, finance, and Controller capacities. To contact ERS, call (714) 744-4000, or visit their Web site at http://www.erscareers.com
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